Offa’s Dyke To Cardigan Bay

Offa’s Dyke To Cardigan Bay

In the 1960s, the war correspondent and journalist Wynford Vaughan Thomas was persuaded by the BBC to climb on a horse and ride from Pembrokeshire to North Wales, with no previous experience. He described the journey in “Madly in all Directions” in 1967, with an account superbly interspersed with personal anecdotes from his life and work, and the many people he had met, interviewed and befriended.

I came across the book many years ago, and was fascinated by the idea of riding across Wales, but felt that it would probably be just a life-long dream. In 2020, my daughter and I rode from the English border to Borth in just over 5 days, covering 100 miles, together with three like-minded people, and lived the dream.

We drove from home early on a Sunday morning past Storey Arms, where the car park was already full, and a line of people could be seen on the way up to Pen y Fan. The holiday invasion of Wales during the summer had flooded every popular tourist spot, but still the majority of people headed for the well-known places, and I wondered how busy it would be in mid-Wales. I need not have worried.

There were 5 of us in the group, led by an experienced guide with maps and instructions. We carried all our luggage with us in saddlebags. The route ran from Clyro over the Begwns to Builth Wells, then across the edge of the Epynt, coming down to Abergwesyn. From there we rode over the Cambrians, past Strata Florida to Pontrhydfendigaid, and then to Ponterwyd via Devil’s Bridge. Then we headed west for the coast, staying in Aberystwyth, and rode up the beach to Borth and Ynaslas on the last day. As we left Aberystwyth, a family from London who were there on holiday stared at us in amazement. They had never seen a horse before! We had one rather wet day, but otherwise the weather was superb. Accomodation in country inns had been arranged for us at the end of each day, and the horses were left in a field of lush grass nearby.

Mid-Wales is not really dramatic or spectacular, but it is stunningly beautiful and so peaceful, with only sheep, skylarks, buzzards and kites for company. We rode on all types of terrain, country lanes, grass tracks, rough trackways, old drovers’ roads, under fallen trees, through a lot of water and across a few streams and rivers, and across a railway line. We stopped for the horses to drink from time to time, trying to find nice clean water, although horses are not very fussy about what they drink. Having drunk their fill, they like to splash with their hooves perhaps to cool off their feet? On some steep downhill stretches, we walked the horses for safety and to stretch our legs, and we stopped for a picnic lunch each day. The horses were Welsh cobs, not very large, but known for their strength and stamina, and always incredibly energetic and well-behaved.

The trip was an adventure to start with, but disaster struck on the third day. Our guide had eaten something that did not agree with her and was not well at all, and the stables owner rang us the next morning to say that he was very sorry, but we would have to cancel the rest of the journey. We were extremely disappointed, especially my daughter, but we held a quick emergency meeting, and asked the owner if he would allow us to continue un-guided. To my surprise, he said yes, so we took the maps and instructions from our poor guide, and carried on. Some of the navigation, especially through forestry, was not straightforward, but with great teamwork, supported by some modern GPS technology, we managed to avoid getting lost.

By the end of the ride, we were all friends for life, so we have arranged to do another ride next year!